Natural born killers, and why you need to Vote Water

The following is a column by VoteWater Board President and Florida Sportsman Publisher Blair Wickstrom which originally appeared in the July 1 edition of Florida Sportsman Magazine.

In the 1870s Dr. Cesare Lombroso, founder of the Italian School of Criminology, became convinced that the “born criminal” could be identified by anatomical features such as a sloping forehead, ears of unusual size, asymmetry of the face and excessive length of arms.

Of similar mind and nearly 150 years later, neuroscientist Dr. Jim Fallon was also convinced psychopathic killers were born, and he believed a specific gene in the brain was the link. However, after finding out that he himself, along with most in his family, had the gene, he had to rethink that hypothesis.

So, the question remained. Do we have natural-born killers among us? The answer is no. American psychiatrist and author Dorothy Otnow Lewis, after interviewing over a hundred murderers on death row, concluded, “Serial killers are not born; it’s a mix of environmental factors that activate the evil in us.”

The same finally can be said about Karenia brevis, red tide. The tiny K. brevis organism is born, naturally, but not as a serial killer. A mix of environmental factors activate the evil in it, making K. brevis a mass murderer.

A new study from the University of Florida, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program found that although red tide often blooms naturally, humans are making them more intense and sustaining them longer due to an infusion of nutrient pollution, namely nitrogen.

The authors studied advanced analysis of the dynamics of red tide blooms, water quality and discharge of pollutants in the Charlotte Harbor region between 2012 and 2021.

“We discovered that nitrogen-enriched Caloosahatchee River discharges have consistently intensified K. brevis blooms to varying degrees over time,” the authors reported.

The Charlotte Harbor study concluded with a smoking gun: “We traced this anthropogenic influence upstream to Lake Okeechobee (which discharges to the Caloosahatchee River) and the Kissimmee River basin (which drains into Lake Okeechobee), suggesting that watershed-scale nutrient management and modifications to Lake Okeechobee discharge protocols will likely be necessary to mitigate coastal blooms.”

Serial killers aren’t born. Agreed. And in the case of K. brevis, what should be, at worst, a juvenile delinquent, we turn into a mass murderer.

Florida, unfortunately, too often creates the perfect environment for a killer to bloom: non-enforceable laws for point-source pollution (the worst offender being massive agriculture fields and corporate dairy farms), undertreated sewage and our state’s water management being too heavily influenced by the sugar industry. And then there was Piney Point…

Producing a potent toxin that affects the central nervous system of the fish, K. brevis wiped out over 1,700 tons of sea life in Pinellas County in July, 2021. This massive kill directly followed a blue-green algae bloom, which directly followed 200 million gallons of nitrogen-rich process water leaked from a phosphogypsum stack at Piney Point, on lower Tampa Bay.

How do we prevent further deaths? What of the fish-suffocating algae blooms occurring every few years on the northern Indian River Lagoon? We have to vote in officials, at all levels, who prioritize water.

You need to Vote Water.

Specifically, VoteWater. For much of Florida, specifically the larger coastal counties from Tampa Bay south and up through Volusia County, you can go to and find voter guides on who at the county, state and federal levels is making water a priority.

We have to watch for “sneak attack” legislation like this year’s Senate Bill 2508, filed late on a Friday afternoon in a manner that allowed for only one public hearing. As Gil Smart, Executive Director of VoteWater explains, “It was filed on behalf of the biggest special interests in the state, Big Sugar and the big utilities. It would essentially turn Lake Okeechobee into a private reservoir for sugar farmers and allow utilities to pay to expedite their own wetland permit requests.”

Nearly every senator and representative in the state voted in favor of SB 2508!

They voted to give the special interests what they wanted, despite the overwhelming citizen opposition to the bill.

hey should pay for that vote. If we let them off the hook, they’ll simply vote with their wallets again and again.

We need them voting water. We need to Vote Water. Let’s stop the revolving door of mass murderers from growing within our neighborhood creeks, rivers and bays.


Take the month of July to research how your representatives vote on water. And prior to voting in this year’s primary election, August 23, 2022, go to and see if your county has a voter guide with water-friendly endorsements.